The Sri Lankan government has turned down a truce offered by Tamil Tiger rebels as the military presses on with an offensive to capture a key rebel stronghold. From New Delhi, Anjana Pasricha reports the government hopes to crush the rebels, who have been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland for a quarter century.   

Sri Lankan government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella says the rebels must lay down their weapons before any negotiations can begin. He says the government cannot trust Tamil Tiger rebels "with arms in their hands."

Rambukwella was responding to reports that the rebels are ready for a truce. Over the weekend, a pro rebel website said that "there is no hesitation on our side to reiterate our position that we have always wanted a ceasefire." The Tamil Tigers say they have been forced into a "defensive war" by the government.

But Minister Rambukwella says the guerrillas call for a ceasefire each time they get weakened militarily.  

The head of Colombo's National Peace Council, Jehan Perera, says the government fears that the Tamil Tigers, also known as the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) could use a ceasefire to rearm.

"They [the government] want to make sure that the LTTE does not use any opportunity of a ceasefire to replenish its arms, to regain its strength when it is weak," Perera said,  "so if the LTTE is serious about talks then they must prove their bonafides by laying down their arms."

Sri Lanka's Tamil rebels have lost considerable territory in the north to the army. The government says troops are now closing in on the political and administrative headquarters of the Tamil Tigers - Killinochi.

The government launched an offensive against the Tamil Tigers in the north earlier in the year after evicting them from their eastern bases.

Political observers say the military has made dramatic progress in its bid to crush the guerrillas. But Jehan Perera of the National Peace Council says the government has made little progress in addressing the political issues which ignited the ethnic conflict.

"It is also very slow in coming up with a political package that could address long standing Tamil grievances," Perera said. "This is the major weakness that we see in the government position and its own sincerity with regard to ending this conflict."     

The Tamil Tigers began fighting for an independent Tamil homeland in the 1980's, after complaints of discrimination against the minority Tamil community by the majority Sinhalese. The violent civil war has claimed more than 70,000 lives.